Sunday, September 18, 2016

Recasting the ideas of “virtue” and “purity” as a holistic incorruptibility, rather than a state of abstinence from something

Last week I wrote about the idea of liberating human sexuality from religious moral codes that preempt people from making their own sexual decisions based on their intuition and their health. While it seems that moral codes which lay out the dos and don’ts of sexuality were created to keep people safe and discourage them from wrongdoing, the over-emphasis on sexual restraint in these moral teachings is dangerous because it takes valuable attention and time away from training people to cultivate all the other morals that are essential to developing healthy, noble lives outside the bedroom. 

My best friend Dan made the point that morals cannot be truly separated from religion. Morals were created by religions—the most well-known code in the West being, obviously, the Bible. Other religions have their own moral codes, which have both similarities and dissimilarities to the code derived from the teachings of Moses and Jesus. 

Thus, I’m not advocating that moral teachings themselves be separated from religion. What I’m advocating is a re-prioritizing of our moral code to emphasize people’s happiness, empowerment, compassion, and courage, rather than defining our moral worth in terms of our response to sexual temptation. 

This is why the use of the terms “purity” and “virtue” exclusively to describe sexlessness has always irritated me. I would much prefer to see these words used to describe a holistic incorruptibility, rather than a state of abstinence from something. Pure people are those who do not allow evil to taint them into losing faith in humanity, nor into losing their motivation to strive to create a better world. The lack of this kind of purity in our world is far more dangerous than the kind of purity defined by sexual chastity. 

To me, people’s virtue should be defined by how they treat people, their kindness, their ability to manage their emotions, their use of peaceful means of conflict-resolution, their choice to help people who have failed rather than negatively judge and exclude them, and their courage to stand up against injustice. If such people want to include sexual celibacy in that collection of virtues, fine; but they do themselves a disservice if they condition their self-concept of virtue and purity on their sexual intentions or history. 

In contrast to the morality passed down by the Abrahamic monotheistic religions, I have always resonated more with “Eastern” religious moral codes, such as the idea of ahimsa, the simplest definition of which is “non-violence.” The idea of ahimsa, and similar codes, is that your moral choices are dictated by the mandate to do no harm, or the mandate to work for your own and other people’s happiness. Thus, if what you are thinking of doing would cause harm to another person, you don’t do it. 

Not spelling out a laundry-list of dos and don’ts helps protect against the over-emphasis of certain morals to serve domination-based agendas of priests or rulers. Also, Eastern moral codes tend to place greater emphasis on doing right for the sake of doing right, rather than doing right for the sake of avoiding punishment. 

My point is not to argue that my moral perspective is right and that the more prevalent one is wrong. My purpose here is to encourage people to look a little more critically at the moral teachings they’ve always been told to follow. Two questions I propose we ask ourselves are, why has sexual morality for so long been considered important enough to justify ignoring or de-emphasizing education on all the other morals? And, what is the agenda behind this over-emphasis? 

Every moment that moral authorities spend beating the dead horse about celibacy with young people is time that’s not spent training those young people how to make their own decisions when they need to, how to responsibly and lovingly manage their sexuality when they do receive the social sanction to have sex, how to be good spouses and parents, how to use peaceful means of conflict-resolution, and how to make their big life decisions based on courage instead of on fear. 

Emphasizing what people can do will go a lot farther toward motivating them to do what they should do, than telling them what they shouldn’t do.

Image: “Elemental Woman,” by Karla Joy Huber, 2007; Prismacolor marker and Sharpie marker

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